What To Do When Someone Dies…a Lesson….

Ugh… a sick feeling goes into your tummy…you can’t breathe and you suddenly can’t feel. Anything. Life stops. Instantly. All is frozen. Time just ends.

The moment some tells you someone dies is a Moment we never forget.

Shock. Sadness. Disbelief. Regret. Confusion.

A couple of years ago I had attended an annual restaurant party. It was a glorious calm beautiful night. I was on the beach, cocktail in hand, dancing in front of a live band with a friend of mine when I felt my phone ring.

I rarely carry a purse, so the phone, in my coat pocket, kept buzzing and buzzing. I didn’t want to answer because my phone is like an extra limb. I never get to break free and I never get to go out. This night was something I had looked forward to for a long time. Whatever was going on from this caller on the phone…they would have to wait.

Then it didn’t stop…the buzzing…kept going…I finally answered.

It was my (back then) 17-year-old, son, Ty. He was talking flat and stoic.

I couldn’t hear him and I could tell he was getting frustrated as I wondered what he could possibly need from me knowing I had clearly told him earlier I was going out for the night. I walked quickly to get away from the crowd as I heard the words: “Just come home!”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Ryan…he shot himself.”



I was so confused. Ryan? As my brain, in a matter of a single second “rolodexed” through all of my sons friends, my son understood my silence and said, “Sean’s brother…”

It clicked. Sean was my son’s best friend and Ryan was his older brother. Ryan was 20. His mother was one of my best friends.

I understood.

I froze.

The band grew quiet and the people disappeared. I looked at my friend Lisa and said, “we have to go…”

“Go where? What’s going on?”

My brain was suddenly numb. It’s weird how our minds are so busy with one thing and then when something “bigger” and “confusing” comes in…our brains go blank. Like it shuts off. Or maybe it’s on a search for thoughts…to explain or understand. And we become quiet.

I imaged the loss for my friend, my son’s friend and my son.

Suicide? What a waste. Why do these kids feel this is an out?

I had to get home to him to comfort my son.

I dropped off Lisa and rushed to be with my son, who I assumed was home waiting for me. Yet when I walked in the door, he was not there.

I called him, “Where are you?”

Ty answered and was breathing fast like he was walking. I said, “Ty where are you?”

“Mom, we are at the hospital. He died. Ryan died mom.”

I was so confused.

“Why are you at the hospital? Who are you with?”

“My friends. We all came here to be with Sean.”

“Ty, you guys can’t do that!!” I yelled at him, “This is a time for the family to be alone honey, you all can’t be there…Ty just come home!”

Ty said, “Mom, we are at the hospital now! I got to go.”

He hung up.

I took a breath. My oldest, Ty, was almost 18. He always did things his way. And the group of boys, his friends that he had in his life, were all very close.

I started to worry as I imagined my friend, Ryans mom. This was going to kill her. I looked around my house, not even noticing that my husband and other 2 kids were nowhere to be found.

My son was at the hospital?  With all his buddies.  All 12 of them.  I worried they would be in the way.  They were so young. All 17 years old. Facing a death…a suicide?  Ugh…what did they really know about death?  And life?  And grief?

I felt sick.

Just then my phone rang. It was another mom, Kim, calling, whose son was with mine. She quickly said, “Where are you? I’m coming to pick you up…”

Still in shock, I asked no questions.  I just answered, “Yes…I’m home…come get me…”

This mom said, “I’ll be right there…”

I picked up my coat and went to the porch to wait.  My heart raced.

A child died.

I couldn’t think.

A child died.

I couldn’t breathe.

A child died.

How would Ryan’s mom survive this?

Her child died.

I would be ready to help. Do what? I didn’t know. I felt achy.

The mom who lost her child will never, ever get over this. It’s a hole in your heart forever.  And I’d be ready for whatever was needed of me.

A car whisked down the street, flipped a u-turn in our cul-de-sac and stopped at my home.  I got in.  Kim was driving and there were 2 other moms in the car.  No one said a thing.  Everyone was in shock. The Mom driving drove to Ryan’s Moms home.

I was nervous.  I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t breathe. My heart ached for my friend. Ryan died mere hours before and now I was going to stand with the mother who will never see her son again?  What was I to do?  I’d been to funerals before but I’d never been in a home of a Mom the night she lost her child so suddenly.  I begged God to help me.

The home was what you’d expect.  Raw.  Horrid.  Gut-wrenching.  Yet there was comfort in all the warm loving bodies that were now present in the home.  Ryan’s mom sat on a chair sobbing and crying and screaming. About 7 moms in total huddled around her like a mama bear protecting a new cub….helpless…yet oh so loving.  Cause that’s all you can do.  No one can take pain away from someone else.  You can comfort, but there is no escaping the pain of the loss of death.  Specially a child.  The worst pain/torture a mom can have.

I had been to this home dozens of times before. Stood in that same room dozens of times before. It seems so similar, so comforting and yet so terrible. During this huddle time…Ryan’s mom shared something that I will never forget. And it will remain one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned.

Ryan’s mom, Kathleen, in the middle of the unbearable thoughts of losing her oldest child, shared a story.

She said, “After seeing Ryan’s cold body on the table, we were walking out of the room when I turned to see the elevator door open.  There, coming out of the elevator was a whole big group of Sean’s friends.  All of them.  There to support Sean…” As she spoke, Ryan’s mom sobbed and sobbed.  This oddly happy moment entwined within such grave sadness.   With one son gone, her other son, her other living son, was now alone in this world to go forth without his brother.  

And on this night, Kathleen saw that her younger son would never walk alone on this Earth.  He had friends that were willing to stop and come to his side with comfort and love on such a horrible night. And to a grieving mom, that was a wonderful gift.

Here is a lesson I learned: This gift. This wonderful gift she will never forget on the worst night of her life, had I gotten home earlier, I would have stopped it.  I would have denied the boys going to the hospital. And oh how wrong I would have been.

After all the funerals and wakes I’ve been to in my life, I still didn’t know.  I still didn’t really understand or “get it”.  

I made a mistake that never got to happen.

I’m so glad I wasn’t home when my son got the news.  I’m so glad the boys rushed to see their friend.  And I’m so so grateful I learned this lesson to share with you…and others.

Death is horribly hard.  But it’s part of life.  And when it happens…our initial reaction is to run, hide, give space to those who lost their loved one.  But, in fact, the exact opposite is true. Those who lost a loved one need you. To hold them and love them.

Your love, your presence, your human body is needed.  Just be there.  You don’t have to say a thing.  Just be there.  Breathe.  Show them you care.  That they are not alone on this earth.  Let them talk.  It will be the greatest gift you can give.

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